Third Sunday of Easter – April 15, 2018
Acts 9:1-19a and Matthew 6:24
How many of you enjoy watching war movies? I know several people who are almost fanatics, they like to watch war movie after war movie. I suppose that is why there seems to be a new war movie every year. Each one tries to capture the essence of a significant war from the past.
Does anyone recall the one entitled, “Three Kings”? It starred George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg and the cinematography was stunning. But its focus wasn’t on the war itself but rather on an event that happened after the Persian Gulf War of 1991.
Shortly after the war ended, a group of American soldiers come across a secret Iraqi map. The map revealed a bunker where the Iraqis had stored the gold and the treasure they had stolen from Kuwait. But the soldiers aren’t thinking of giving it back to the Kuwaitis. They want to keep it for themselves and be as rich as kings. They are very egoistic at first and greedy but then they actually see what is happening all around them. They see desperate people, they see people in great need and their focus changes. They end up helping with compassion. Their hearts were not the same anymore.
I doubt that these soldiers were expecting this outcome. In retrospect they must have been truly surprised. Our journeys through life don’t always work out the way we intend them to go from the start. God has a way of nudging us in new directions.
In our scriptures today we heard about Saul, whom most of us know as Paul. At this point in the Bible, Saul was waging a war of his own. He was fervently opposed to the new way that Jesus Christ brought. In fact, as a Pharisee he was bent on wiping out the Christian movement. His life had not been touched by Christ and his purpose in life was to be the arch-enemy of anyone who – in his eyes – was so foolish as to believe in the man called Jesus. “Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.”
Then, at Damascus, Saul got this life-changing experience, learning to surrender to the spirit of Christ. Christ spoke into his life and Saul became this brand-new person who became known as the Apostle Paul. He turned into a follower of Christ, a humble man, full of zeal for the gospel of Jesus. This was more than a nudge from God, it was an outright “push” for where God wanted Paul to go.
We have one more example today of how life’s journey often takes a new path. Cornelius and Susara Smuts, from our congregation have so kindly offered to share their experience from the Camino de Santiago walk just last year. “Camino de Santiago” is Spanish for the “Way of St. James”, referring to the belief that the destination point is the last resting place of James the Apostle. They took many pictures along their walk and today we are viewing the very best of them as illustrations to this part of our message this morning. They took off from the base of the Pyrenees mountains, along a communal path that many pilgrims walk. So much of this hearkens back to the experience that Saul had on his road to Damascus. Not only Saul’s life, but also the lives of many believers, such as those described in the pages of the Bible.
Our friends, Susara and Cornelius learned new things – subtle awarenesses – on their Camino de Santiago walk. This is often similar to what happens on our life journeys. We too, reach rivers and bridges to cross. They learned to ask very basic questions of themselves while treading this 800 km long joureny. As they walked, the answers seemed so clear. What do I really need in life? Actually very little. Who provides what I need? The Lord provides in everything. Where do I get help along the road? Ask and it will be given to you. Every single day all of us receive our little package of grace from above. Whatever we receive, is enough for the day. In the same way, on the Camino de Santiago, Cornelius and Susara received enough grace to walk the way that was laid out for them.
They saw depictions of the rooster call that reminded Peter of him denying Jesus. Crosses are abundant along the path. The crosses are often empty, without Jesus Himself being portrayed, because after Easter, Christ isn’t on the cross anymore. Yes, Jesus appeared to Saul along the road to Damascus in the form of a bright light. Saul was blinded by this appearance of the risen Jesus.
The twelve apostles could only proclaim that Christ isn’t in the tomb anymore. People of all ages, nations, denominations worship the crucified and risen Christ all over the planet, in churches, cathedrals or even homes. Jesus brought hope and new visions that nobody would have expected. The bells toll from many a belfry.
The path that the Smuts-couple walked, 800 kms in 40 days ended at the Atlantic coast. They finally reached a place called Santiago de Compostela – which translates as Saint James of the Field of Stars. This is believed to be the final resting place of the Apostle James. There are various routes that pilgrims walk. All the routes end up at the same place, and when you look at them all on a map the lines come together. This is one reason for the scallop shell to be a symbol of the Camino – all the lines on the shell converge into one place. It has been an important Christian pilgrimage route for over 1000 years. In medieval times it was the third most important route after Jerusalem and Rome.
Thank you Susara and Cornelius for sharing your journey and important life changes you experienced.
“The Three Kings”, Saul, and Cornelius and Susara’s Walk are three very different examples of life-altering moments. Only God guides us along the paths of life. There are times of subtle nudges, other times of radical calls, and we as children of God experience that our lives are altered. Are we always aware of these times and are we ready when God wants to nudge us in new directions?
Copyright 2018 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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